Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Community Organization Seeks to Revitalize Chicago Neighborhoods

The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), a nonprofit group committed to community organizing, is striving to reclaim Chicago’s Southwest side.  Its recent community-based campaign, known as “Reclaiming Southwest Chicago,” is seeking funding from the National Foreclosure Settlement Awards in order to rebuild communities that were especially “hard-hit by the housing crisis.”  

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune praised the nonprofit group for its work in our city.  The story emphasized the group’s broad reach in areas negatively affected by foreclosures, and noted that the group was even recognized nationally last month when it received a MacArthur Award for “Creative and Effective Institutions.”  SWOP received the award because of its success in “empowering the community to help itself.”

According to the MacArthur Foundation’s mission statement, it “supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world.”  Among the Foundation’s many emphases, it works to “make cities better places,” which is precisely what SWOP is hoping to do for Chicago.

History of the Community Group

SWOP describes itself as a group designed to improve neighborhood life and well-being in certain Chicago communities.  In the past fifty years, the Southwest side has seen “large and rapid demographic shifts” that have led to a breakdown of neighborhood networks in the area, and a declining sense of community.

The Southwest Organizing Project’s early work began in 1989 through funding from the Southwest Catholic Cluster Project.  These early efforts were intended to strengthen community bonds among the “increasingly diverse residents and neighborhoods.”  After several years of successful work, SWOP was officially created in 1996.

How is SWOP Revitalizing the Southwest Side?

SWOP is now known for its “fight to end predatory lending” in the region, specifically in relation to local immigrant communities.  The Chicago Tribune emphasized that SWOP has been able to make headway into combatting the effects of foreclosure by gaining trust within the community and working directly with residents in its ground-up efforts.  

Notably, SWOP executive director Jeff Bartow was interviewed for comments early on in the foreclosure legislation process.  In April 2009, just after the signing of foreclosure grace period legislation in Illinois, Bartow emphasized the importance of providing homeowners in foreclosure with additional days to remain in their homes.  SWOP has been working to help neighborhood families since, and it is now focusing on revitalization efforts.

With the $750,000 of funding it has received from the MacArthur Foundation, SWOP is identifying prospective renters and homeowners who may be interested in renting or buying some of the empty properties on the Southwest side.  In addition, SWOP hopes to use the grant to “move into its own offices, improve its technological capacity, and boost employee training.”

Ultimately, SWOP plans to work with local developers, including the successful Brinshore Development, to “acquire and rehab” more than 600 “chronically vacant buildings” on the Southwest side

The grant funding comes just months after SWOP worked together with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and other community-based organizations to tour neighborhoods impacted by the housing crisis and to hear residents’ concerns about the vacant buildings in their areas.  In addition to the MacArthur funding it has just received, SWOP hopes to add to its revitalization efforts through monies received from the National Foreclosure Settlement Awards.

Do you have questions about foreclosures or community rehabilitation in your area?  Contact a foreclosure attorney today.

See Related Blog Posts:
Illinois Land Bank Aims to Revitalize Communities
More Funds Committed to Illinois Foreclosure Victims

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